Sun melts Hakkinen's medal pursuit: Kasilof product finishes 76th in 20-kilometer individual; Svendsen captures gold

Posted: Friday, February 19, 2010

Weather again hampered Kasilof biathlete Jay Hakkinen's pursuit of medals on Thursday at the Vancouver Winter Games.

Hakkinen, 32, finished 76th in the 20-kilometer individual, 8 minutes, 39.3 seconds, behind gold medalist Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway.

Just as in the first two men's biathlon races in the Olympics, weather played a factor.

The Olympics started with the 10-kilometer sprint on Sunday. A midrace snowstorm meant all but the early starters did not have a shot at a medal.

That weather penalty carried over into Tuesday's 12.5-kilometer pursuit, since athletes start that race the same amount of time behind the leader as they finished in the sprint.

Thursday it was not snow, but sun, that hurt all but the early starters in the individual. The sun grew more intense as the race went on, meaning later starters had a softer snowpack on which to ski. Hakkinen started the race with the 58th bib.

"I felt frustrated today because this entire Olympics it does not feel like I had a fair chance at the medals," Hakkinen wrote via e-mail. "Today was better than the sprint, as far as there being no snowstorms in the middle of the race, but today's disadvantage was it was very warm with a hot sun, so the course broke up quite a bit for the later starters."

That was reflected in the results, as six of the top 10 finishers were among the first 12 starters. Svendsen started fifth, silver medalist Ole Einar Bjorndalen started 12th and silver medalist Sergey Novikov started 27th.

Hakkinen also hurt himself with seven misses in 20 shots. In the individual, each miss costs the skier a minute.

"I think that frustration got to my shooting," he wrote.

Hakkinen did not qualify for the mass start on Sunday. His final chance for a medal at this Olympics will come in the men's relay on Feb. 26.

One of the preferred members of the team, Jeremy Teela, was not able to start the individual due to illness.

"With the individual races done for me the relay is the only thing I can look to that will keep this Olympics from being a complete disaster," Hakkinen wrote. "I do not know what Jeremy's plans are, but it is over a week until the relay so he should be healthy by then."

Also from the U.S. on Thursday, Tim Burke was 45th, Lowell Bailey was 57th and Wynn Roberts, subbing for Teela, was 86th.

"It's a disaster," Burke said. "The sprint race was not fair, but today I did not succeed."

Burke is the first U.S. biathlete ever to don the coveted yellow bib as the overall World Cup leader, and he was hailed as America's best hope for a breakthrough at Vancouver in the European sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship.

Svendsen denied Bjoerndalen his sixth Olympic gold.

"I would say for certain that I wouldn't be sitting here as the gold medalist today without him, " said Svendsen, who trains with the Norwegian great. "Because when he was in Nagano in '98 taking gold, I was sitting at home and watching him as a little boy and ever since then I tried to copy him and train like him.

"So, I couldn't have done it today without him, and I want to say thank you to him."

Novikov of Belarus, who hit all 20 targets on a sunny but breezy day, tied Bjoerndalen for the silver.

They both finished 9.5 seconds behind Svendsen's winning time of 48 minutes, 22.5 seconds, for the first double Olympic medal since biathlon was added to the Winter Games 50 years ago.

Although Novikov was simply outskied following his fourth and final trip to the shooting range, Bjoerndalen was in position to surpass his teammate to take the gold medal in biathlon's biggest and toughest race before missing the first target on his last shoot, costing him a 1-minute penalty.

"I tried to catch him, but Emil is really strong on the last lap," said Bjoerndalen, who shaved eight seconds off Svendsen's lead after leaving the range.

Svendsen missed one target and Bjoerndalen two.

Svendsen, who also won a silver in the 10K sprint on Monday, won the men's race hours after Tora Berger became the first Norwegian woman to win an Olympic race, dominating the women's 15K.

That eased the pressure on Norway, which hadn't won a biathlon gold since the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, where Bjoerndalen swept all four races.

"After the first week I was starting to think, 'Oh, my God. This is Turin all over again,"' Svendsen said. "But now we are coming back and hopefully we can finish strong in this Olympics. There's a lot more to come and a lot more to look forward to."

And not just in Vancouver.

Bjoerndalen said he's anticipated success for Svendsen for a long time, and that he should be on the podium aplenty for years to come.

"He has a talent that few others have in the world because he is a complete biathlete," Bjoerndalen said. "He is a good shooter and a good skier, and he's not one or the other."

After winning five gold medals in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, Bjoerndalen hadn't added to his tally. He'll have two more chances at gold in these games -- with a mass-start race and relay still to come.

Bjoerndalen is the first Olympic biathlete to medal in the same event in three straight Winter Games. He also took silver in this race in Turin. And he's the fourth winter Olympian to collect 10 medals, two shy of Norway's great cross-country skier, Bjoern Daehlie.

Burke missed five targets, including three on his final shoot, and finished five minutes back in 41st place in what he figured was his last shot at a medal at the Vancouver Games.

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